May 09, 2004


Juan Cole notes reports of growing discontent among high-level US military commanders. "Winning the battles, losing the war" seems like the general sentiment here. But I'm not sure I agree with Cole's assessment of what we might have done differently:

The US has lost ground in Iraq by being exclusionary rather than inclusive. Radical debaathification and a punitive attitude toward Sunni Arabs pushed them into insurgency. The Americans excluded the Sadrists early on, and are now having to fight them everywhere in the South. If they actually do kill or capture Muqtada al-Sadr, it will be Americans killing or holding a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, husband of the daughter of revered Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, and beloved son of Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr. A lot of Shiites who are now on the fence will turn against the US, maybe radically.

Contrast these policies to Afghanistan, where the US has been inclusive, even of the Pushtun cousins of the Taliban, and where there is much less anger toward the US and much less in the way of violence against US troops. That is a remarkable comparison. Afghanistan was supposed to be the graveyard of empires, and Iraq was supposed to be a cakewalk, according to the Bushies. The answer to the puzzle is that situations are fluid, and are what you make of them. If you screw up, you create disasters.
I'm not sure Cole gets Afghanistan right. In the current Foreign Affairs, Kathy Gannon notes that, if anything, we haven't reached out to the Pashtun majority enough. Instead, we've relied too heavily on elements in the Northern Alliance--essentially the same warlords who laid waste to Afghanistan before the Taliban came to power:
The warlords have now ruled the country for two years, and Afghanistan seems to be degenerating into a sort of narco-state, which could spin out of control. Not only are the warlords complicit in drug-running and corruption, but according to Afghanistan's Human Rights Committee, they are also guilty of abusing and harassing the population. The warlords have stolen peoples' homes, arbitrarily arrested their enemies, and tortured them in private jails.
Gannon also notes that the warlords have done very little to capture or kill Taliban and al Qaeda holdouts. Much of this abuse stems from the fact that no one's watching the watchdogs—NATO security forces have either left the country or withdrawn to Kabul. But the real problem is that we've relied heavily on people who have no loyalty to us, who, if anything, are hostile to our stated interests in Afghanistan.

There's every reason to think that an "inclusionary" strategy in Iraq could have backfired in similar ways. If we had kept the Baathists in power, if we had brought Moqtada Sadr under our wing, we might have set the stage for Iraqi warlordism, of sorts. If not now, then after we withdrew. Some sort of exclusionary principle is needed. As a math major, I can really only recommend that Bremer and Rumsfeld study this.
-- Brad Plumer 2:04 PM || ||